By Argyll Cyrus Geducos
Malacañang said that the Balik Probinsiya program will surely make a comeback after the government irons out the issue with stranded Filipinos in Metro Manila.
Presidential spokesman Harry Roque made the statement after it was announced that President’s Duterte’s push for Metro Manila residents to return to their home provinces was suspended to give way to the homecoming of those who are stranded.
In an interview with GMA-7, Roque said the program will surely return since a lot of Filipinos have now realized that they can have a better life in their hometowns.
“Sa tingin ko medium at saka long-term magpapatuloy pa rin iyan dahil itong naging krisis natin, eh marami talagang mga Pilipino ang biglang na-realize na mas mabuti ang buhay sa probinsya. (I think in the medium and long term, the program will continue since the COVID-19 pandemic made people realize that life is good in the province),” he said.
“At least sa probinsya hindi ka magugutom, kahit papano, puwede kang magtanim, puwedeng mangisda (At least in the province they won’t get hungry. They could, at least, plant or fish),” he added.
However, he said that the Balik Probinsiya program will have to take the backseat for now so the government can focus on addressing the problems at hand–the stranded Filipinos in Metro Manila and making sure that those who will return to the province are negative for COVID-19.
At least two beneficiaries of the program tested positive for COVID-19 upon returning to their hometown.
“Alam ko lahat naman po ng umuuwi sa probinsya sina-subject to testing. Kaya nakakagulat nga po na may mga kaso pa rin na nakakauwi na mayroong COVID-19 (From what I know, all those who want to return to the province are being tested. That’s why it’s surprising that some are testing positive when they arrive home),” Roque said.
The Palace official said they are now working on improving the provinces’ capacity to conduct COVID-19 testings.
“Para may testing dito sa Maynila bago umuwi, tapos may testing din doon sa probinsya bago po sila makauwi sa kanilang tahanan (So those returning to the provinces will be tested in Manila and tested again in the province before they actually go home).
Earlier, Balik Probinsiya program Executive Director Marcelino Escalada Jr. said they decided to suspend the program so resources could be focused on bringing home stranded Filipinos.
So far, the program has brought home some 100 people to Leyte.
However, the program has been criticized for lack of coordination with local government units that would receive the returning individuals.